Here is the complete sermon. It comes to about 31 minutes. you can download it here in PDF relationship-not-ritual, or copy and paste it from here into Logos and set the formatting.
Have Congregation turn to Matthew 15:1-9
Matthew 15:1–9 KJV
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
Let us pray.
We come to, in this passage, a place where we reach the heart of one of the Lord Jesus Christ’s prophesied ministries. The Jews expected that the Messiah would resolve disputes about the law. That’s why in one spot, a man in a crowd calls out to the Lord to bid his brother divide his inheritance. He knew the Messiah would judge. They had certain teachings in their writings that they had argued to a standstill, and could not resolve. When the Rabbi’s come to a place like that, they drop the issue and say, ‘It is for Moshiakh to decide.’ Literally, they expected Him to come in, kick out the Romans, usher in peace, and then sit down and say, all right, bring me the questions you could not resolve.
There’s a Chassidic story about a travelling Rabbi who went from town to town in Poland, and would speak to the Rabbi’s that gathered. And one day, his carriage driver noticed that all the Rabbi’s always asked the same question. So, he asked the Rabbi, “Why don’t i take your place tomorrow, and you take mine? I’ve heard your teachings, and heard your answers every day.” The Rabbi agreed. And at the next town, he gave the speech, got the usual questions, and gave the usual answers, and all the Rabbi’s nodded at his wisdom. Then, at the end, one Rabbi asked him a question he’d never heard before. So he said, “You’re wasting my time with so simple a question? Why, it’s so obvious, so simple, that I’ll have my driver answer it!”
The Pharisees had a question: Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before they eat? Doesn’t that make them ritually unclean? And doesn’t that make the food they eat unclean as well?
It’s a logical question. And today, we wash before meals because there’s a lot of yucky out there. Doorknobs, shopping carts,little kids with runny noses touching everything because that’s what kids do! So we wash to avoid getting some kind of horrible disease that will make you melt into a pool of slimy liquid.
But the Pharisees aren’t worried about health. It’s like when I was observant, wore a yarmulke and black hat, and EVERYONE just festered to tell me keeping kosher had to do with refrigeration and health. I’ve heard it a hundred times. My answer is always, “God commanded it so that we should be Holy. Nothing to do with refrigeration or health.”
And of course, they went on believing what they wanted to, because their minds are made up.
In this case, the Rabbi’s are not open to teaching. They’re convinced they’re right. It just never occurred to them that they’re wrong. And the Lord chooses this as an opportunity to explain, and for them to learn.
This brings us to our first question…
Why do we allow traditions to violate the word of God?
It’s in man’s nature to want to have ritual, to have a tradition. It takes away that fearful “Not knowing what to do” thing. The first guy does the offering, and he may raise a hand at the end of it, because he is trying to figure out how to end this sacrifice thing. Okay, the real answer is you say “Amen” and walk away, and do some reflection on it. But that’s uncomfortable for us. So we see him raise his hand, and we think, “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” So we get up, do the sacrifice, and at the end of it, we raise our hand. Then a month or a year later, if someone doesn’t raise their hand at the end, we debate whether the sacrifice is valid.
Let me put this in terms of Independent Baptists. We’re commanded to baptize new believers. So we stretch it, and we see Baptism is the door to the Local church. So, someone who’s already been baptized but doesn’t have a letter, we often advise them, “Hey, you might want to do that baptism thing again.” Why? Were you born again all over again?
So, Jesus Christ, His disciples, and a group of Scribes and Pharisees – the Sadducees haven’t come along yet and gotten involved – are arguing about ritual cleanliness. Why?
Because the Pharisees have seen that washing is to be done to promote ritual cleanliness in many situations, up to and including Baptism, which is called Mikveh. So, the assumption is that we should make sure we have not defiled ourselves by eating with impure hands. You’re working in the marketplace, some Gentile comes up and buys something from you. He hands you money that for all you know was in a pig’s mouth an hour ago. It could be ritually defiled. So, now you’re afraid to eat your food, because now it could transfer the defilement into your stomach.
The Lord’s not too worried about that. He does what the Messiah is supposed to do, and gives judgment on that. Know where?
Well, that’s next Sunday, but essentially the answer is given in verse 15 It’s not what goes in you, but what is coming out of your heart. Ritual cleanliness is a minor issue, the Lord was saying. And to drive that point home, and for other reasons besides, he quite simply takes away their temple 40 years later.
According to William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew,
The scribes and Pharisees are not ill-naturedly seeking to entangle Jesus. They are genuinely bewildered; and in a very short time they are going to be genuinely outraged and shocked; for the basic importance of this passage is that it is not so much a clash between Jesus and the Pharisees in a personal way; it is something far more—it is the collision of two views of religion and two views of the demands of God.
We do have to be careful of William Barclay’s opinions, as he was a theological modernist, and denied the virgin birth of Christ. It’s recorded in R. A. Torrey’s book The Fundamentals, which every Bible Believing Christian should read at least once, that you cannot deny the Virgin Birth and still believe in the deity of Christ. William Barclay is aware of his error now. Regretfully.
But in this rare occasion, he’s partially correct. The Pharisees this early are not setting traps for the Lord. They quite simply cannot understand His reasonings. He seems to follow Pharisee teachings in some cases, because they are correct, but he then disregards others! This is completely baffling to their way of thinking!
However, Barclay is also partially wrong. This is not a “excuse me Rabbi, but I was noticing…” kind of question. In the parallel passage in Mark 7 we see in verse 2, they “Found fault.”
No kidding, they’re getting a little huffy with the Lord. “Rabbi, surely you know…!”
Now, NOTICE. The Sadducees are not involved yet! It’s just the Scribes, and the Pharisees at this point. They are outraged. Jesus Christ is eating with ritually unclean hands, in their opinions. It’s logical, to say the least. If you follow the flow of their argument, it really SOUNDS logical.
But it exceeds the written law. And this is a major point that the Lord disagrees with them. The Pharisees wrote commentaries on the 613 commandments in the books of Moses, and they called this the Mishnah. In the very center of the Mishnah is a chapter called Pirke Avos, which actually is a wonderful little chapter of folksy wisdom. The passage we’re reading today literally mentions Pirke Avot in its earliest form by name: The Traditions of the Elders.
The Pharisees are elevating that folksy wisdom above and beyond that of commentary, but up to that of Scripture.
The Treasury of Scriptural Knowledge has a quote from the Talmud here, and I don’t know what tractate, because they don’t give the reference, but it reads…
The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge Chapter 15
‘The words of the Scribes are lovely beyond the words of the law, for the words of the law are weighty and light, but the words of the Scribes are all weighty.’
The Lord turns the conversation around at this point, and I’m sure the Pharisees sat there blinking, trying to figure it out! What? Huh?
The point here is, you accuse me of eating with unclean hands… yet you sit there with unclean hearts.
I think I say it every week, but I absolutely hate Sermon Illustrations. I think you all can understand the Bible, and what I’m teaching, just from the sermon. However, I understand not everyone thinks like me, so I got this out of my voluminous Bible library to help you understand this point, which I’m sure you do anyway.
Thus Saith Our Lord Ye call Me Master and obey Me not, Ye call Me Light and see Me not, Ye call Me Way and walk Me not, Ye call Me Life and desire Me not, Ye call Me wise and follow Me not, Ye call Me fair and love Me not, Ye call Me rich and ask Me not, Ye call Me eternal and seek Me not, Ye call Me gracious and trust Me not, Ye call Me noble and serve Me not, Ye call Me just and fear Me not, If I condemn you, blame Me not.
The Lord desires Relationship, not ritual
Essentially, this is what this discussion boils down to. The Pharisees teach clean hands, the Lord is teaching Clean hearts. The Pharisees are teaching the traditions of men as authoritative, and the Lord is teaching us that only the word of God is authoritative. It is from this that Baptists derive our foundational principle, the Bible is our sole authority of faith and practice.
Relationship, not ritual.
Our Second Question.
Why do we abandon the Bible in favor of Tradition?
Edersheim writes in the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah the entire cleanliness ritual. It’s a lot simpler now. You just take a two handled pitcher, and pour water on one hand up to the wrist. Then you take the other handle, and pour it on the other hand. Say the brahchah, and dry your hands, don’t spritz water on the floor or the Rabbi will yell at you.
But back then you had to scrub one hand with your knuckles, and it had to be drawn out with a ladle. The funny thing is, unless they had two ladles, according to modern Rabbi’s, those ancient Rabbi’s were eating with unclean hands.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, KJV)
Leaving the hand washing issue, because the Lord here is pointing out it’s a minor thing, he now turns to the issue of the vilation of the commandments.
One commentary i have points out that the language of verse 5 is used in anger by the son. Apparently, he’s irritated with his father, for reasons unknown, and utters this ‘vow’ to cut off his parent from every kind of benefit he might gain from him. Essentially, He’s cursing his father and mother.. The son does not dedicate his goods or his services to the Temple; he just vows all away from his father. The Rabbis said: ‘Whoever shall say: “Korban is everything whereby thou mightest be profited,” he shall be bound.’
Since this essentially is rebellion against one’s parents, the Rabbi’s should have followed Deut. 21…
Deuteronomy 21:18–21 KJV
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
But they don’t! This is why in the book of Malachi, it reads thus… Yes, I just used the word Thus…
Malachi 2:2 KJV
If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart,
To give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts,
I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings:
Yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.
By teaching this, The Lord accuses the Pharisees and the Scribes, that their traditions are completely rendering the Law null and void by their traditions!
An example in our own time, since I’m picking on Baptism and traditions about it – is infant Baptism. Now, when anyone reads the Bible to look at Baptism, it’s pretty obvious the Bible forbids infant Baptism. You have to be born again, you have to make a profession of faith, and I’ve yet to see a month old infant do that. And since it’s pretty dangerous to shove a baby underwater, the Catholics came up with putting a little water on the Baby’s forehead. Well, that’s not a baptism. So you’re doing it wrong, for the wrong reasons, to the wrong person.
So let’s turn to the fill in on your handout…
All Protestant Denominations accept Infant Baptism except Pentecostals. Baptists are not Protestants, and reject Infant Baptism.
This is why the Lord says,
Isaiah 8:20 KJV
To the law and to the testimony:
If they speak not according to this word,
It is because there is no light in them.
If they violate the Bible, it’s pretty valid to question whether or not they’re saved. And in Mark 7, it points out that they had MANY traditions like this that violated the word of God.
The Bible says believers should be baptized. The protestants say infants should be baptized. The Bible shows them only baptizing born again individuals.. The Protestants call them covenant children, and insist they’re already saved because their parents are saved. The Bible says ye must be born again. The Protestants say you must be predestined. If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. It’s not my words.
It’s God saying it.
We do things at our house, at our job, in our prayer life, in our Bible reading… and we do them because it’s our habit! It’s our tradition! And if it violates or makes the word of God of none effect, then it is no less hypocrisy in our dining room than it was that day in Galilee.
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown tell us in their highly overpriced commentary,
By putting the commandments of men on a level with the divine requirements, their whole worship was rendered vain—a principle of deep moment in the service of God.
And this is what it boils down to! Jesus Christ wants to know us. If we’re born again, He wants to spend time with us. If you’re not born again, He wants you born again – and then wants to spend time with you. The only way to get some Baptists to pray is put food in front of them. But this is an issue so important to the Lord, that He even specifically adds this warning in the Bible…
Matthew 7:21–23 KJV
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
There was only one book in all my illustrations that had anything on traditions… and it was for them. That’s a sermon illustration right there! They have illustrations on Hypocrisy, but are afraid to speak against traditions!
Relationship, not ritual.
And thus brings me to my last question…
Why do we not see this as hypocrisy?
How: Jesus Christ ultimately points to the heart, and not to the letter. The Pharisees ultimately point to the letter, and the heart is up to you.
Psalm 78:36–39 KJV
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth,
And they lied unto him with their tongues.
For their heart was not right with him,
Neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not:
Yea, many a time turned he his anger away,
And did not stir up all his wrath.
For he remembered that they were but flesh;
A wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
And this is the point that I emphasize, and that the Pharisees missed – or they never would have crucified the Lord – The Lord is full of compassion, and destroyed them not. He made it clear – you’re making me angry. And it’s abundantly clear that the Lord puts far more weight on how we treat one another, than how well we do hand washing, or was all of our body completely submerged under the water for Baptism.
He wants Relationship, not ritual, not traditions.
Isaiah 29:13–14 KJV
Wherefore the Lord said,
Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth,
And with their lips do honour me,
But have removed their heart far from me,
And their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:
Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people,
Even a marvellous work and a wonder:
For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.
Because in many ways the Pharisees make an idol, a god out of learning and study, the Lord does what He always does – He mocks that idol. They worship learning and study – fine. Let them forever study, but never come to the truth.
Incidentally, this comes in the Bible just before the Lord ministers to a Gentile for the first time, the Syro-Phoenician woman. Whosoever believeth… whosoever thirsteth, let them drink… whosoever will. The Lord will turn nobody away. Nobody. Until the very end, when the Lord says, THe time is now… did you choose? Have you chosen? And if they have not, but chosen their rituals and traditions instead, His answer is simple – away with ye. I never knew ye.
Instead of traditions, Bible. Instead of theories, doctrine. Instead of ritual, a relationship with the one True Living God, who walked in Galilee and died in Jerusalem, and paid the price for us, that we could be sons and daughters of the most high.
The Lord was not rebuking Bible study. Indeed, He places a huge priority on it.
Deuteronomy 6:5–9 KJV
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Don’t stay away from church because there are so many hypocrites. There’s always room for one more. Arthur R. Adams (b. 1861)
We must learn to have a relationship with the living God. The Risen and Ressurected saviour demands a relationship. It’s so important that He literally says without it, we may actually not be saved!
Speak the Truth in Truth
Sooner or later, every Christian reaches a point for one reason or another where they go through the motions , pretending to a holiness they really don’t feel. Sooner or later, every believer settles into comfort zones, and then traditions set in. We assume our traditions are the Scriptural way of doing things. What is not important to God is not our traditions, it is not our demeanor, but rather – our relationship to God, to Jesus Christ.
Today, we can rest assured that Jesus Christ wants relationship, not ritual with His redeemed. And if you are not sure you have a relationship like that, it’s easy, it’s free. All you have to do is repent of your sins. Acknowledge your sins have separated you from an Almighty and thrice-Holy God, that you deserve only Hell for all eternity. But the Lord provided a free way for you. Accept that. Go to the Lord right now, and tell Him you want a new life, a new way, that you’ll live for Him, that He will be your Lord and Master. Ask Him to save you, while there’s still time.